Welcome to My Zoo: Pet-Assisted Therapy
Annie, age 15, was extremely hesitant to come see me. I spoke with her mom, Ashley, on the phone prior to Annie coming in.
Ashley explained her concerns about Annie’s lack of social skills and friends, isolative behaviors at school, unwillingness to interact with anyone outside of the family, and low self-esteem. We scheduled an appointment and I asked my standard question, “Do either of you have pet allergies or aversions to dogs?” Ashley responded with, “Annie hates dogs” left it with that.
I do not always implement animals in my practice and have other forms of therapeutic avenues such as art, sand, and play therapy so I secluded Dexter, my Golden Retriever, for Annie’s appointment.
I had envisioned Annie to be an extremely shy adolescent girl who would more than likely say very little to me, based on the history mom shared with me.
Annie was a pleasant surprise. Very personable, articulate, and had a funny dry sense of humor. We talked about school, family, grades, and her family.
“So, why did your mom bring you to see me?” I asked Annie. “I have no idea” she replied as she was scooping sand in the large sand therapy tray.
Okay, it’s okay…I will need to dig here.
While we were talking, Annie was diligently building a large wall with the sand (sand therapy tray). She carefully secluded one of the dog characters on one side of the sand barricade and 6 “people” figures on the other side and her story began as she continued to build in the sand…
At the age of five, Annie had been attacked by a dog she had been raised with and loved. One evening she, her brother, and her parents were at their close family friends’ home when the other family’s dog abruptly charged Annie. In a matter of a few seconds the large dog knocked her down on her back and began mauling her. The dog she had grown up with had bitten her face, neck, and arms and this resulted in her having a cavernous laceration on her right cheek.
Annie has undergone several surgeries over the last 10 years on her face, mainly her cheek. I could barely see any scaring on her face.
“Can you get me a tissue so I can show you?” Annie asked without exhibiting any emotion. I handed her a tissue and silently sat while Annie wiped off her makeup, she uses to camouflage the scar. Annie put the tissue down and immediately continued where she left off in the sand tray.
“We don’t talk about it…haven’t since it happened…my parents probably think I don’t remember it.” Annie shared. She prudently built her rendition of the room she was in when the attack occurred, the hospitals she remembered, isolation from friends, she buried the dog who attacked her, and placed herself over in the far corner of the sand tray, alone.
This horrific traumatic event was etched in Annie’s mind since that day when she was 5 years old. “I think about it a lot, Miss Becky, but it was my fault”. She continued, “I must have made the dog mad” and continued, “I caused us to not to be friends or see that family ever again – I loved them, and their kids and they were my parents’ best friends”. Annie was convinced she should not talk about it because she felt her parents would be upset “because they probably already blame me” for the loss of “the friendship, money, and our house because we moved away from them”. This was not her parent’s reality. They actually blamed themselves for “not protecting Annie” and were guilt ridden themselves.
Over the next several weeks, Annie and I began a journey of exposing her to Dexter. This journey was gradual and was based on her readiness and willingness to be introduced to a new world with Dexter in it. It was her choice, empowering her to understand she does have choices in her life.
The key here is was not pushing Annie in this journey and providing a safe, gentle, fun, nurturing, positive environment that includes Dexter, gradually. Annie’s parents were loving and supportive and welcomed any discussion of the horrifying event and the aftermath following.
Annie today feels “more empowered and confident” now. She learned to trust herself, others, and how to establish her own boundaries in her world. She found the confidence buried way deep inside and learned the event was not her fault and she was not to be blamed or resented.
Dexter and Annie remain buddies to this day and Annie’s parents are currently looking for a Golden Retriever of their own for Annie for her birthday in August. The dog will be named after her buddy, Dexter.
“I am so much stronger now that I met Dexter. He taught me something people couldn’t teach me.”-Annie
I answered a knock on my door.
An older gentleman stood politely, bowed his head looked up and said, “I heard you had a large tortoise here.”
Oh no! He may be from the city. Humane Society. Health Department. Complaint Department. Something! I am in big trouble.
He has a serious look on his face. He’s mad. He’s going to complain or tell me to get rid of Woody. Bet he is from the city and I am getting some stupid violation ticket.
“Mmmm, yes, I do.”
“I never thought I would be able to touch a tortoise again nor would my grandchildren be allowed to”.
I thought to myself, “Oh okay…So, he trying to trick me – then he will write me the ticket? I will hide Woody when he leaves.”
“Do you want to meet him; his name is Woody”.
“If that would be okay” he answered.
The two of us walked to the back where Woody was eating watermelon, his favorite.
The gentleman bent down on his knees by Woody and began sobbing.
“Oh no, I have really done it this time.”
This kind man, Mr. S, shared with me a childhood memory from his country, South Asia, where he and his brothers would ride on and play with tortoises on an island, they called “Tortoise Island”. He explained how he did not have many positive memories (or fun stories) to share with his family except the joy he felt when playing with the tortoises.
In the next week, his entire family met Woody, there were about 15 children and adults who came. The excitement and joy exuded from Mr. S. when his family was present. They fed, touched, followed, took photos, and asked lots of questions about Woody.
Woody unknowingly gave this family opportunity to share some memories of their father and grandfather’s childhood that was important to him. I have been asked where Mr.S heard I have a tortoise. I have no idea. I think he was led here by God.
Sadly, Mr. S died two months after meeting Woody. I am grateful Woody had an opportunity to make an impact on his Mr. S’s life as well as his family.
“I am forever grateful for this tortoise being here and allowing my family to experience some of my childhood with me.”– Mr. S
Don was clearly devastated. He sat in my office visibly upset, crying, close to hysteria.
This 63-year old man was faced with a divorce after a 27-year marriage.
He shared his devastation, fear of loss, and feelings of hopelessness.
Half-way into our session, I asked Don to give me a minute, I left the room and returned with Charlie, my 8-week-old mini rex bunny.
Don’s eyes instantly lit up and he said, “Who is this precious guy?” as I handed him the tiny white and gray soft fluffy bunny. Don’s entire demeanor abruptly shifted, and he laughed when Charlie gave him “kisses” on his cheek. The transformation in the tone of Don’s voice, body language, and perception was amazing to witness. We continued his session and he has asked to see Charlie during every session after.
Charlie doesn’t solve or cure all of life’s problems, but he offers a sense of calmness and peace to individuals facing the difficult issues in their lives. The simple act of holding a bunny has proven to offer a seminal change, if only for a few brief minutes.
Sometimes I am certain that Charlie is a much better therapist than I could ever be.
“Holding this little cute guy makes stop for a second and see that it is all going to be okay”.– Don W.
The Girls – Chickens
“Hey Jayden, do you want to go get some baby chicks?”
“Are you kidding me BeBe? Yes!” my grandson Jayden responded.
We headed to McDonald’s Feed Store in Keller.
“Pick out two” – urging Jayden and his buddy to choose the ones they wanted.
As they made their choice they noticed “the ugly one” so we decided to take three home.
I never gave a thought to these three chickens actually growing up. Never thought about what would be needed or what I would need to do. I mainly just thought baby chicks would be fun to have.
Well, they grew up.
Many patients have witnessed the “girls” growing period. We have held, fed, nurtured, and loved these chickens and observed them bond with humans. We have all learned fascinating things about their behaviors, personalities, needs and how mother nature works.
Children have experienced the process of caring for, nurturing, and loving animals that are not typically pets. Children of all ages, adults included, have experienced the chickens laying eggs, approaching when called, holding a chicken on her back as if she is a baby, and the closeness they share with one another.
“I love this chicken. I hold her like I did my baby sister, I like her better than my baby sister though.”– Jacob (age 5)
Conditions or Issues Addressed With Pet Therapy
People with a variety of conditions can benefit from animal-assisted therapy, including:
· Autism spectrum disorders
· Cancer or serious illnesses
· Developmental disorders
· Psychiatric disorders
· Emotional and behavioral disorders
· Chronic pain
· Difficulties with social skills, acceptance, and fears
· Trauma recovery
· Isolation and lack of purpose
· Anger, defiance, and disobedient issues
· Friendship or acceptance difficulties
· Bullying or victim of bullying
Interested in more? I would love to meet to you! Email or call anytime to schedule a session. (817) 701-5438 | email@example.com
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.